Saturday, February 27, 2010

Sport And The Olympics: Socialization/ Acculturation/ Endorphins/ Peace-Making

AIRBORNE: A snowboarder flies through the Olympic rings at the start of the opening ceremony at BC Place in Vancouver, Canada.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Most of Canada is aware of the current Winter Olympics Games being celebrated on our far west coast, in Vancouver BC, and nearby Whistler Mountain. Although there have been violent protests of the Games, the general spirit is positive, proud, and progressively more convinced of the value of the efforts that went into these games.  The "Own the Podium" programme of developing elite athletes, has shown results in the medal count, but also had a trickle down/up effect in other areas of sport, providing developmental programs with better trained coaches, and new role models in our athletes.

The coverage of these sports events, and the accompanying social activities, has reminded me of the importance of sports and sports participation generally, and particularly as a way to socialize children into positive patterns of personal health maintenance, physical and mental, and good interpersonal relations--win, lose or draw. Sports are also an excellent entry into a culture for expats, or immigrants. Unlike other activities often little language or cross-cultural skill is required, there are opportunities to join clubs and groups with a shared focus, and usually a healthy attitude towards life in general; and, there is motivation to get more involved in the host culture via a loved sport, and to try new activities.

Taking up a sport can also change one's attitude toward the climate or weather. Snow can block you in, be shoveled, or skied on. Heat can be enervating or a reason to take up a water sport. Spring rains muddy everything or herald warmer days for jogging, while the crispness of fall  provides relief from heat and humidity for cycling, hiking, or other outdoor pursuits.

The Olympics are the pinnacle for many amateur athletics, and represent both the challenge and joy of elite competition for participants and spectators. Many are inspired to take up a sport or perfect one by the quadrennial international competition which never fails to draw attention away from everyday concerns, and international strife. Initially a peaceful athletic interlude between Greek wars, the Olympics have returned as friendly competition among nations, one that refocuses energy from negativity and war. However, the games are highly politicized, even when one considers only the sports included, the countries allowed to be hosts, the difficulties in certain sports especially of having an honest competition free of drugs, judge tampering, and re-enactments of political alliances.

The Olympics are also a time to showcase the host country's society, culture, and savoir faire, as shown here in pictures from the opening ceremonies of the Vancouver Olympics:

LIGHT AND MOTION: A rollerblading entertainer creates a blur of light along with dozens of others during the opening ceremony.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

AWASH IN COLOR: BC Place Stadium, the first indoor venue to host a Winter Olympics opening or closing ceremony, is awash in color on Friday night.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

INTO THE LIGHT: Performers enter the stadium during the opening ceremony.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

ILLUMINATED: A 65-foot polar bear appears during the performance of "Landscape of a Dream: Hymn to the North."
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

A NATIVE DAUGHTER: Canada's own k.d. Lang sings during the opening ceremony.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

LIGHTS FANTASTIC: A woman and thousands of other spectators hold electric candles during the Winter Olympics' opening ceremony at BC Place in Vancouver.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Although I have watched little of these Olympics, mostly because I keep counting on re-runs that never happen, or that I sleep through, and most live events are pre-empted in-house, en famille, by hockey or a kiddie show, some highlights stand out for me in particular.

Quebec (l-r) Catherine Ward, Marie-Philip Poulin, Caroline Ouellette and Charline Labonte have their photo taken with their gold medals following their victory over the USA in the gold medal game in women's hockey
Photograph by: John Mahoney, Canwest News Service

They include, most recently as of the writing of this post, the Canadian women's hockey team's three-peat for Olympic Gold, especially sweet as they shut out traditional rivals, USA, 2-0. Hopefully other countries will continue to discover and support women's hockey and make the match-ups more balanced. Canada's initial record-breaking victory over Slovakia 18-0 was more of a cause for consternation about the unfairness of such a routing, speculations about mercy limits on scoring disparities, and even suspending women's hockey from the Olympics until there is a genuine playing field, let alone a more even one.

Jacques Rogge has been accused of sexism in immediately placing the women's ice hockey federation on notice that there would be no further Olympic competition in the sport after 2014 unless the results were more balanced than the 86-4 combined scores of the US and Canadian teams vs all the others. The debate involves the developmental stages of any sport, the role of a sport's tradition in a country, the organization and funding for the sport. It shows the Olympics as at least in part a competition of demographics and dollars. Still, Canada 2, USA 0!

In breaking news, the cigars, beer, and champagne celebrations by the women's team have caused a scandal. Sexism? Appropriate disapproval of bad behaviour by role models? The masculinization of women's sports?

And in other on ice activities, this was a definite highlight:

GOLDEN: Canada's Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir complete their free skate in triumphant fashion, earning the gold medal in ice dance Monday night at Pacific Coliseum.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Indeed, more happily for all, or at least less controversial (for once) were the results in figure skating, definitely my preferred winter Olympics sport.

Canada's Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, Gold Medallists in Ice Dancing

China's Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo, Gold Medallists in Pairs

USA's Evan Lysacek, Gold Medallist, Men's Singles

South Korea's Kim Yu-Na, Gold Medallist in Women's Singles

And for those who prefer their ice dancing comedic, here are Virtue and Moir, brilliant and funny, in exhibition:

Still, sadly there have been a number of casualties associated with these Olympics: the death of Georgian luge racer Nodar Kumaritashvili; the death of Thérèse Rochette, mother of Canadian figure skater Joannie Rochette; the disappearance and suicide of actor Andrew Koenig who was visiting Vancouver for the Games, an increase in violence in Vancouver related to protesters, etc.

However, there have also been unusual moments.

One of the odder "highlights" of these Games is Netherlands speed skater Sven Kramer's interview with NBC immediately following his gold medal in the 5000m. When the interviewer asked him to identify himself by name, country, event, and accomplishment, he said "Are you stupid?" He went on to point out that she had just seen his race, and only became cooperative when she asked about his feelings about winning. Ah, but in the 10,000m race his gold medal was aborted by his disqualification for a lane foul, which had him, under the direction of his coach, skating in the wrong lane for the final 8 laps. It makes one wonder if there weren't jinns involved: the jinns of sport, or sport as war, at the very least trash-talking war, the jinns of NBC, the gods of USA sport--something to explain such a fatal, though basic, error in a top athlete and his coach.

Now it only remains for the Canadian men's hockey team to take the gold, preferably in a shut out over traditional rivals the USA, and the Winter Olympics 2010 can conclude appropriately. :)  The importance of this upcoming game (Sunday) and the rivalry behind it is well described in this article, with excellent pictures of the Canadian semi-final against Slovakia (3-2 ), It's Canada-USA again, for all the bragging rights. Fortunately that preliminary Canadian loss to the USA (5-3) was just a psychological fake out, as seen in the photos here. This time it will be Luongo in net, and there will be no false modesty! :)

Do the Olympics, Summer or Winter, have any importance for you?
Have you been watching? What have your impressions been of the Games?
What is your favourite spectator Olympic sport?
Do elite training programmes help or hinder development of the sport? How?
What aspect(s) of the politics of the Games interest you? Why?
How much should athletes' behaviour be controlled for the media, and those who see them as role models?
Is any of the coverage or controversy in this year's Olympics reflective of sexism?
How much is sport a part of socialization and acculturation?
What role does sport play in the life and peregrinations from country to country of an expat?
Any other thoughts, experiences, comments?

Coming soon...Olympic Gold: Sports, Sportsmanship, Health, and Joy


Jay Kactuz said...

Just stopped by to see how you are doing. Now, I guess, I will have to answer the damn quiz.
1. Are the Olympics important? Not very. Some entertainment value. They went downhill after Thorpe.
2. Yes, I have watched some 15 minutes / day. Canada has done a fine job.
3. Favorite Olympic sport? Figure shaking. It is so graceful!
4. About training programs… Not sure, but is part of the professionalization and commercialization of the games. This is unfortunate.
5. About the politics… The Winter games are clearly discriminatory against 1/3 of humanity that has no snow. We need more brown snow. Oh yes, they are also islamophobic. Tell me, how a good Muslimah be expected to skate downhill in a burka?
6. Leave the athletes alone and no they aren’t role models unless you are involved in same sport.
7. Of course there is sexism in all sports not to mention politics and business. It is part of life. Actually the worst sexism is no sexism at all. Let’s just make all sports open to all genders with no more segregation (no more women’s this or men’s that!). That would solve everything, right?
8. Yes, sports are a part of society and culture. Their role today, however, is distorted and exaggerated. There is no way to justify the money that athletes receive today. (It is obscene, but let’s not forget actors, CEOs, etc….
9. Any other thoughts...Hope you and family are doing ok.

Susanne said...

LOL @ Jay's comment about your quiz! Now I have to follow suit. :)

1. Do the Olympics, Summer or Winter, have any importance for you? fun to watch

2. Have you been watching? What have your impressions been of the Games? been watching most every night for 2 to 4 hours ... up past my bed time so I'm a bit sleepy these days. :) -- I've enjoyed them for the most part. The Canadians have been wonderful hosts from what I've heard.

3. What is your favourite spectator Olympic sport? I liked the short track speed skating among other things. Downhill skiing was nice, the half pipe snowboarding was pretty cool. The ice skating pairs, singles, dancing was lovely though the music sometimes put me to sleep. I enjoyed the "stories" more about those people and my heart went out to the Canadian skater who lost her mom. I think we all were rooting for her. I saw an interview with her in the NBC studio last night and it was really sweet. She said she'd watch Scooby Doo (among other things) to learn English. Her mom encouraged her to do so since her parents only knew French. Btw, my brother in law learned English the same way -- TV shows. He doesn't even have an accent when he speaks English. I wish I could say the same for myself. :-)

4. Do elite training programmes help or hinder development of the sport? How? I guess they help.

5. What aspect(s) of the politics of the Games interest you? Why? I try to leave politics out of it. They ruin everything.

6. How much should athletes' behaviour be controlled for the media, and those who see them as role models? Well, image is important. Ask Tiger Woods.

7. Is any of the coverage or controversy in this year's Olympics reflective of sexism? I think the controversy re: the Canadian women was just image related and the fact that an 18 year old was drinking *gasp!* and that is illegal in BC. Not a big deal to most though. I've not heard much of it.

8. How much is sport a part of socialization and acculturation? A very important part. My BIL moved here from Venezuela when he was about 15. He'd never played American football, but was asked by the coach at his school if he wanted to play. He said yes and so his Tia Mari went to Barnes & Noble, bought a book about football and they read it to learn how to play. :) Will was quite popular and dubbed The Venezuelan Sensation at his Florida high school. He has done very well here! I laugh sometimes when I think of stories he's shared. "Refrigerator" was a very hard word for him -- imagine rolling all those Rs in Spanish -- so he'd sit in his room and say it over and over and over.

9. What role does sport play in the life and peregrinations from country to country of an expat? it's a good way to meet others; a potential "ice breaker"

10. Any other thoughts, experiences, comments? It's amazing the pressure some of those athletes are under to medal (eg. the S Korean and Japanese skaters who went gold/silver - wow. I really feel bad that so much pressure is put on them.)

Enjoyed this post!

coolred38 said...

Fake OUT!!!

Such a nice way of covering your loser asses!!!

USA all the way girl.

I agree with comment upstairs...discriminates against the poor warm countries that dont have wonderful winter weather to practice such frivalities in.

Add said...

I just have one thing to say...



Chiara said...

First, and most importantly: face off just after 3pm EST (New York Time) Sunday February 28, 2010. American crying about 60-90 minutes later!

Jay--thank you for your thoughts and wishes! Regarding your "quiz" answers, OMG, it is possible we agree on something! Perhaps I misunderstood. I certainly think that men's and women's competitions in sports should be kept distinct. Both can participate in the same sports but usually do so differently, often with women better at strategy and technique and men better at power and speed. This makes exciting opportunities for both, and there are advantages to training together and learning from one another. In competition however, most often men can out power women, or as a friend said during a classroom debate on combining men and women in the same competition, eg women playing in men's uni basketball competitions: "Not if women want to win they shouldn't!" My own experience is that men make great training partners and supporters, but I would rather pure competition be women only. And not to be sexist but..they just don't look right for synchronized swimming. Let's just say they have no bumps where they should, bump(S) where they shouldn't, and body proportions are off. Thanks for your comment.

Susanne-I'm glad you liked the post and were inspired by Jay's comment. Your BIL is a great example of socializaton, acculturation, and integration in part through sports. I have seen so many other examples, including a South Korean grad student who was feeling very isolated and was advised by the referring psychiatrist to take up a sport on campus. She joined a scuba class, loved it, got some exercise which helped her mood generally,and met a Korean-Canadian woman who became a friend, mentor, and bi-cultural interpreter. Her attitudes to life on campus and her chose career even changed markedly.

Coolred--you can cry on chat later today!
There are members of warm countries participating in the winter Olympics in a variety of sports and a variety of ways. More on that in part II--the part that starts with the Canadian win over the US!

Add--glad to hear your inner Canuckitude! I will send a cheer in the direction of Saudi later today! LOL :)

Looking forward to more comments. Americans welcome! LOL :) :P

Jay Kactuz said...

No, you understood correctly. End all separation of sexes in sports. Throw them all in the court and may the best athlete win. As a feminist that fights for female equality, you should support me on this.

Of course I understand that men and women have different physical capabilities, so women would be at a serious disadvatage in most sports (except maybe gymnastics).

So never fear, I am here to solve this too. What we do is make housekeeping, sewing and cooking olympic sports!!! Ha!

That should take care of that. Now tell me that I am not a genious! Pura cretineria!

Chiara said...

Jay-- All is right with the world: Canada 3-USA 2 (OT); and you and I disagree. Gee that was a close one. As a feminist who fights for improvements for the lives of men and women, I must thank you for your offers of solutions, say thanks but no thanks to a mixed gender free for all in the Coliseum, and tell you that yes indeed Pura cretineria seems to describe well your proposal which smacks of Swiftian modesty, and is a tribute to your sense of humour and wit. :)

coolred38 said...

I demand a rematch!!!

Chiara said...

Anytime, anywhere--I'll speak to Sid and the boys!

Jay Kactuz said...

Following up on the thought...

Quote: "Rule No. 1 in determining whether an activity is a sport: If the best female in the world can beat the best male in the world, it doesn't qualify."

Good writing and great article about Kelly Kulick (who?). RR's book, "Sports From Hell, My Two-year Search for the World's Dumbest Competition" sounds interesting, too.

Anonymous said...

I just saw in the news the Russian President has asked his Sports officials to step down.

Well its quiet sad to see that Olympics and other sports have become only about winning and have lost the spirit of sportmanship and fun.

oby said...

I used to love the Olympics and watched it religiously perhaps with the deluded thought that I might actually (at least in my dreams) achieve fame as an, not so much.

I think the Canadians did a great job of presenting their country and the things that make it particularly Canadian. For example, the huge bear and the native american representation.

i love the ice skating and did not see one minute of it this time around. :-(

while the winter Olympics might not favor hot weather countries, don't you just love the chutzpah of the athletes that get out there without a hope of winning.

Chiara said...

Jay--need to read. Will get back to you. Thanks for the comment and the links.

Abu Abdullah--thanks for the link. As you are probably aware the Russians are progressively more unhappy with themselves and others.
Often the two go together. They need a big improvement before 2014, and so far are just rolling heads to get there.

Oby-thanks for your comment. I am sure many have harboured Olympian fantasies, yet for most of us reality keeps us grounded.
I was also very much out of synch with watching this years Olympics. I am hoping to access some aspects of it online. I did find the audio of kd lang's opening ceremonies rendition of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah--magnificent.

I am glad you enjoyed the presentation of Canadiana. It seems there was a mix of reality and the symbols we are known for, which do carry their own real weight.

True, most Olympians do there best but know that there best is like far short of the podium. They are to be admired for their spirit.


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